Mister Cee, “The Bigger Picture” (Originally Published April 2003)

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After Marley layered Kane’s voice with his signature true grit, texturing the audio beatdown with primitive percussion and cyberfunky Roland 808 drum machines, Cee laid down his scratches. “The technology was simple then,” says Mister Cee. “We had old mics and dusty records. I was bangin’ on the wall when we made ‘On The Bugged Tip’ so it could have that lunchroom sound. To this day other DJs tell me how much they dug the scratches on ‘Raw,’ but the truth is, I messed up at the end of the record. If you listen closely you can hear the record [that I was scratching] skip, but Marley never took the mistake out.”

By the time Big Daddy Kane’s instant classic Long Live The Kane dropped in 1988, the streets were on fire. In addition to the urban fables boasting from the mouth of this dark Gable, albums like Boogie Down Productions’ By All Means Necessary, Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and EPMD’s Strictly Business were forcing the world to recognize the power of hip-hop. “When it was time for me to go on tour I was still working at Airborne Express,” Cee says. “But they refused to give me a leave of absence. They advised me to either stay or quit—and you see which one I chose.”

Six years later, as Kane and Cee’s last collaboration, Daddy’s Home, was being released on their new label, MCA Records, the party was damn near over. In those years Kane had risen from “the worst thing his moms ever had,” as Biz blurted on “The Vapors,” to a chocolate-hued sex symbol gracing the pages of Playgirl magazine. Yet, having gone through hip-hop’s inevitable falling-off period, Mister Cee had no idea what his next path would be.

Still living in Bed-Stuy, Cee was cool with Biggie’s first DJ, the Hitman Fifty Grand. “He and I grew up together,” Cee remembers, finishing his bacon. “The tape that he brought me was just a home-basement demo, but I was blown away. Most of the time when I’d got demos, the rappers usually were not very good, but B.I.G. sounded like he had been rhyming forever. One of the tracks even used the ‘Blind Alley’ sample that had been heard on Kane’s ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’.’ I had the same reaction listening to him that I had when I first heard Kane. It was just raw talent.”

Biggie was a forceful but gentle giant. “He just told me up front, ‘Yo, don’t make me no promises you can’t keep.’ He had been working with other producers, but nothing had come through for him.”

After signing the hulking future king of New York to a production deal, Mister Cee began constructing a cleaner demo for submission to The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column. “Biggie painted beautiful pictures with the simplest lyrics,” Cee says. “He would put you inside the mind of the thug next door and explain why he sold drugs or why he was so stressed out or why he had suicidal thoughts. And once he started getting more confidence, it was over.”

Mister Cee arranged Biggie’s first photo shoot. “I knew we would need pictures for the package,” Cee says. “I hired this dude George DuBois, who had shot a few Big Daddy Kane album covers. Biggie took those pictures right on Bedford and Quincy avenues. That was the same spot where he hung out and smoked weed, so it was perfect. We had a lot of laughs that day.”

Cee and Biggie finished the demo and sent it out to The Source. With lyrics like, “Looped like Michael Jackson, kicks like Bo Jackson, bitches like Freddy Jackson, no need to be askin’ my crew/Oh/No frontin’, no fakin’ moves/Fightin’ and fuckin’ the same thing/Stick and move,” Biggie won his slot in Unsigned Hype. Soon after, the big dawgs came sniffing around. “At the time Puffy was still doing A&R at Uptown Records,” Cee says. “Biggie didn’t even know who he was, so I explained that Puff was the cat who had worked with Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. In the meeting, Puff asked Big to kick a rhyme. He sat there excited and when Big finished, Puff said, ‘We can have a record out by the summer.’ That’s how fast it happened.”

While Cee provided the gritty scratches on “Gimme The Loot” from Biggie’s debut, Ready To Die, his role in B.I.G.’s career after the Uptown turned Bad Boy deal was minimal. “Originally, I wanted Puff to sign Big through my company. But he refused to do a production deal. I could have been selfish, but what would I have gained by holding him back? I got a finder’s fee, points on the record and ’til this day I still get a royalty check. I always knew that Biggie had talent,” Cee says, “but who could have predicted he would be so mega?”

According to Mister Cee, there are still many unheard Notorious B.I.G. tracks in the vault—he unearthed a few of these gems on his award-winning mixtape Mister Cee Presents: The Best Of Biggie. “I’m sure it’s not the same amount of material that ’Pac left behind,” he says. “But there is a lot. There are many people who were disappointed in the Born Again album [Bad Boy’s first posthumous B.I.G. release]—whether the new tracks didn’t fit with the old lyrics or there were guests on there that B.I.G. wouldn’t have ever recorded with had he been alive. The fans are not dumb, they want to hear the authentic tracks. They don’t care if it’s airy or hissy, they’re just not going to accept something that’s not done right. Puff and I had conversations about the [rest of the] material last year, but so far nothing has happened.”

For a minute, Mister Cee pauses, quietly contemplating his fallen friend. As he remembers B.I.G.’s funny jokes and blunt smoke, brutish voice and poetic lyrics, his eyes moisten and his voice gets soft. “The last time I talked to Big was when he was recuperating from his car accident,” he says. “A few weeks later, he was dead. I went to the station right after I heard Big was murdered. Coming home that night, I’ve never seen Brooklyn so quiet in my entire life. That was the day Brooklyn died, man.”♠